U.S. weighs special forces in Syria, helicopters in Iraq
Two U.S. officials said any deployments would be narrowly tailored and would seek to advance specific military objectives in both Iraq and Syria
The United States is considering sending a small number of special operations forces to Syria and attack helicopters to Iraq as it weighs options to build momentum in the battle against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, deeply averse to over-committing American troops to unpopular wars in the Middle East, could view some of the options as more viable than others as he approaches the final stretch of his presidency.
Still, Obama’s administration is under pressure to ramp up America’s effort, particularly after the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to ISIS in May and the failure of a U.S. military program to train and arm thousands of Syrian rebels.
Two U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations, said any deployments would be narrowly tailored, seeking to advance specific, limited military objectives in both Iraq and Syria.
That option includes temporarily deploying some U.S. special operations forces inside of Syria to advise moderate Syrian opposition fighters for the first time and, potentially, to help call in U.S. air strikes, one official said.
Other possibilities including sending a small number of Apache attack helicopters, and U.S. forces to operate them, to Iraq, as well as taking steps to bolster other Iraqi capabilities needed to claw back territory from ISIS.
The deliberations come as the United States looks to Syrian opposition fighters it supports to put pressure on Raqqa, ISIS’ stronghold, and for Iraqi forces to retake Ramadi after the city fell to the militants earlier this year.
The options appeared to stop short of deploying American troops in any direct ground combat roles, something Obama has so far ruled out.
One of the officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the proposals were still in a conceptual stage - meaning that even if any were approved in the coming days, a U.S. military deployment could still be weeks or months away.
The Pentagon and White House declined comment on the options, which were also reported by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.